Before you order yet another instantly forgettable glass of Pinot Grigio, think of Aaron Forman, who left a burgeoning career in dog mushing to enter the world of wine—which should tell you something about the thrills it packs. His bottle list tells you everything else you need to know. For more than 10 years, the Table 6 owner has encouraged Denver diners to expand their horizons with an ever-changing selection of finds from the world round: little-known grapes, up-and-coming regions, uncompromisingly small producers.
If all that sounds intimidating, rest assured it doesn’t have to be. Eclectic, challenging wine programs don’t exist in a vacuum—they’re created by people who are passionate about introducing you to new things in what Forman calls "a humble, relaxed way." Let 2015 be the year you accept their offer, whether at Table 6 or any other enocentric restaurant. Here are some ways you can help them help you.
Explore regions you don’t know (even if you think you do).
The most distinctive wines, it’s often said, are an expression of place: they reveal the landscape of their origins, from the vineyard soil to the microclimate. (Therein lies the concept of terroir.) Drinking wine, then, is like sending your senses on a grand voyage. And while they’d surely still be grateful to you if they never got further than Bordeaux or Piedmont, why stop them there, when they could taste the sea breeze in an Assyrtiko from Santorini, Greece, or glimpse the Hungarian countryside in a glass of Furmint?
Ask Forman for his own dream itinerary these days, and the first country he’ll point you toward is Portugal. "Many people don’t know that Portugal makes amazing still wines—not just Port," he explains. Sommeliers love, say, red Touriga Nacional from the Douro in part because it’s "versatile with food. You can start with fish—Portugal’s right on the coast—and go on up the ladder to meat." South Africa, particularly Stellenbosch, also pops up on his list here and there: "They make world-class wines there, including amazing Cabernet, and not a lot of people know that either." And then there’s Beaujolais, which Americans tend to associate strictly with Nouveau, the goofy fruit juice released each fall. "I’d love to see people get into Cru Beaujolais," he says. (Cru, which literally means "growth," indicates a quality vineyard site.) "When people actually start looking into the region, they’ll find some serious yet still very approachable, fun wines."
Ask about older vintages, on list or off.
Of course, wine is also an expression of time, capturing both the viticultural conditions in the year it was made and the evolution it has undergone since. Forman’s list is notable for being scattered with older bottles—a 1987 Rioja Blanco here, a 2000 Italian Merlot from Venezia-Giulia there—to make it easier for everyone, not just trophy-collecting VIPs, to discover the effect aging has on wine. Take his Rieslings in particular: "That’s a conversation right there. Not a lot of people understand that you can age Rieslings; they show so well even at 20 years. The fruit might drop a little bit, but the acid stays, and they develop these secondary, Bit o’ Honey characteristics. They’re alive, they’re poppy, they’re fresh—and they have a lot more versatility for pairing beyond fried and spicy foods."
And older vintages don’t merely illustrate how wine changes over time—they also mirror how you’ve changed. "At the end of the day, wine is about relationships and memories," says Forman. "So I like to show people cool bottles that date back, like this 2002 Gaston Chiquet Blanc de Blancs, and go, ‘What were you doing in 2002? I was moving down here from Jackson Hole to open a restaurant called Adega.’ ‘Oh wow, I was in college.’ That helps people relate to the wine. It makes it approachable."
While many restaurants, including Table 6, keep reserve lists, Forman recommends that you just ask your server directly about hidden cellar treasures. With sommeliers and well-trained staffers, a little curiosity and enthusiasm go a long way.
Bring apéritifs and digestifs to the dinner table.
Starting a meal with a glass of bubbly is one of life’s great pleasures. Ending a meal with a glass of dessert wine is another of life’s great pleasures. But discovering that sparkling, fortified and/or sweet wines don’t have to be mere bookends around a meal is a whole other thrill. "We’re beginning to break down those pairing barriers," Forman notes; for instance, "I’ve worked with plenty of somms over the years who like to eat a big, fat steak with a full-bodied Blanc de Noirs." In fact, Champagne is one of the food-friendliest wines there is. Dry Sherries pair with a wide range of appetizers and entrées too. And as for your sweet Sherries, Ports, Eisweins and late-harvest pours, they interact in fascinating ways with salty foods—strong cheeses first and foremost. Forman suggests trying them as well with foie gras "or as an intermezzo," à la le trou Normand ("the Norman hole" is what the French call a glass of Calvados served between courses).
At brunch, hold the orange juice.
"It’s always interesting to see people order wine before noon," laughs Forman. But the midday meal provides a stellar opportunity to sample the goods at the lighter, lower-alcohol end of the spectrum. Consider a Grüner Veltliner with, say, a veggie omelet: "It’s one of those varietals you can actually pair with asparagus." Cut through the fat of dishes featuring cheese, smoked fish or cured meat with a glass of Franciacorta from Lombardy, Italy—"an amazing DOCG that’s doing handmade, labor-intensive sparkling wine" in the Champagne style. For staunch red-heads, Forman suggests a fruity Sangiovese, which would shine with sausage and tomatoes.
Finally, rosés are a brunchtime no-brainer—and come March, Forman will be releasing his own Ruza White Zinfandel, which he made at a custom-crush facility with single-vineyard fruit from Lodi, California, in the hopes that its "lush watermelon and strawberry flavors" would "the flip the perception of White Zin on its head." You read that right: the blush everyone loves to bash just may be making a comeback. Stay tuned for launch details.